Marvel’s oldest character never appeared in a live-action adaptation. Wakanda Forever changed that and brought the MCU its best Phase Four villain.
After a relatively slow start in the villain department, the Marvel Cinematic Universe eventually found its footing with its plethora of great ones. And while many of the best baddies from the comics are still MIA in the big-screen franchise — including Dr. Doom, Magneto and Galactus, among others — it hasn’t wanted for reliable antagonists. Phase Four featured a bumper crop, most of whom toed the line between good and evil in a way that made for rich character-driven storylines.
The biggest new antagonist to enter the MCU in Phase Four was doubtless Kang the Conqueror, who’s positioned to become the saga’s next Thanos. But since he didn’t do much more than make his presence known — unless one counts He Who Remains — it’s hard to gauge his overall success as of this writing. Another Marvel staple is under no such limitations, however. Namor — one of Marvel’s strangest and most complex figures — made an incredible entrance in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. He remains the standout villain for the entire Phase.
Namor Is Marvel’s Oldest Character, and One of Its Strangest
Namor is the first official Marvel character ever created, arriving all the way back in Motion Picture Funnies Weekly #1 in 1939. Creator Bill Everett wrote, drew, inked and lettered the brief story, which depicts Namor’s destruction of an exploration ship before announcing a war on the surface world. His abilities included flight, as well as colossal strength, and the ability to breathe underwater, making him a “triple threat” on the sea, land, and air. He has served as a staple of Marvel Comics ever since, acting as both a foe and an ally to almost all of its biggest heroes at some point or another.
His duality set him apart from other villains of the era, who were typically played as one-note evil-doers interested only in power or destruction. Though arrogant, Namor always displayed understandable motives, and his antagonism toward humanity came from hard, bitter experience. That made him an unpredictable — and always exciting — presence in the comics, which is likely why he stayed relevant while other figures of the era (such as the original Human Torch) ultimately faded away.
Wakanda Forever Honors Namor’s Roots While Making Him Its Own
Namor’s combination of attributes makes him exceedingly difficult to adapt, at least in live-action efforts. Wakanda Forever changes that in a big way, both by honoring the character’s roots and delivering a version of him unique to the MCU. As played by Tenoch Huerta Mejía, he stems from an entirely different kind of underwater kingdom from the traditional Atlantis. His empire of Talokan carries strong Meso-American roots and is powered by vibranium like Wakanda. American efforts to steal the metal unleash his ire, and he tries to use Wakanda as a catspaw to stop the surface dwellers. That gives his grievances a very authentic grounding in the real world, allowing him to represent indigenous peoples from all over the world and give voice to their point of view.
Namor’s unique look and revised origins still house the same nuanced figure beneath, however. Wakanda Forever takes care to show his perspective — including an update of his original attack on a surface ship in Motion Picture Funnies Weekly — without detracting from the danger he represents. His powers are comics-accurate (right down to the wings on his feet) and retain their menace, as well as their uniquely strange properties. His hot-headed arrogance goes hand in hand with his strange sense of honor, and judging by the film’s success, he’s apt to make more appearances in the MCU as well.
It’s an impressive feat in and of itself, especially coming in a movie with a lot of other things going on. In delivering Namor so well, Wakanda Forever demonstrates the MCU’s magic formula: honoring the comic-book history of such figures while delivering them to a whole new audience for the 21st century. In this case, it takes exceptional care, and yet, considering Namor’s status at the genesis of Marvel, such care is warranted. The results speak for themselves, leaving Marvel’s prince of the deep the best villain of Phase Four and one of the most exciting the franchise has yet produced.
To meet the MCU’s Namor, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever arrives on Disney+ on Feb. 1.